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Paynesville Press - April 28, 2004

Elementary school to offer looping classroom next year

By Michael Jacobson

Starting next fall, Paynesville Area Elementary School will offer a looping classroom.

Second grade students in the class will stay with the same teacher for two years, as second graders in 2004-05 and third graders in 2005-06. Ross Engelstad, who has taught second grade for three years at PAES, will teach the looping classroom.

The big benefit in looping, according to Engelstad and elementary principal Todd Burlingame, will occur in the second year, when the familiarity between teacher and students should enable the class to know the rules and routines of Engelstad's classroom and "hit the ground running."

Looping should enable students to bond with Engelstad and continue that bond for a second year. Engelstad's knowledge of his students - their abilities, their strengths, their weaknesses, the ways they learn best - will carry over for a second year, as will his relationship with their parents.

Due to society changes - mobility, fewer two-parent homes, more homes where both parents work, etc. - that getting-to-know-the-kids time each fall between teacher and students (and between teacher and parents) takes longer these days, said Burlingame.

The looping classroom is one way to ease that anxiety period in the fall where the teacher, students, and parents get to know each other.

"I think these kids are going to build quite a rapport with themselves, too," said Burlingame, of the two-year looping classroom.

Offering a looping classroom at PAES came about during the study of multi-age classrooms. Having a multi-age classroom - having students in two grades in the same classroom, say kindergartners and first graders - has been delayed for at least a year at PAES, but the looping classroom will be offered starting this fall.

Engelstad was interested in teaching a class for two years - to loop with the kids from second to third grade - because he wanted to try something different. He was curious how familiarity between teacher, students, and between teacher and parents, will help in the second year. To do so, Engelstad has agreed to teach the second grade curriculum one year and third grade curriculum the next. (He has experience in teaching third grade from his previous teaching job in Willmar.)

In 2005-06, when Engelstad is teaching the looping class in third grade, Jane Ruprecht has agreed to teach the next looping class starting in second grade.

Looping classes, like multi-age classrooms, give parents a choice in their child's education, said Burlingame and Engelstad. Eventually, if things go well, PAES could offer a multi-age classroom in kindergarten and first grade, a looping classroom in second and third grade, and another in the upper grades at the elementary school.

Next fall, second grade enrollments at PAES are expected to be around 72 students, which broken into three sections means about 24 students per class.

The elementary school contacted all first grade parents for a meeting about the looping classroom earlier this month, and two dozen parents attended the meeting and another half dozen expressed interest in the looping class. Burlingame has set a deadline for Friday, May 7, for parents to apply for the looping class. (That is the same deadline as for homeroom requests.)

If more than 24 students want to be in the looping classroom, a lottery will be held to assign the students, said Burlingame.

Burlingame and Engelstad expect the looping classroom to contain a typical mixture of girls and boys and a typical range of ability levels. Englestad plans to teach the looping class just like other elementary classes, with desk work, small group work, activities, etc.

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